Here in the twenty-first century, we are bombarded by multiple news feeds every second of every day. It is easy to get sucked in to the never-ending stream of negative stories, news of fallen sinners making bad decisions, or the tragedies experienced every day in our fallen world.
As Christians we are called to take hope, and to bring that hope to a dark world. Here are just a few examples of how we experienced hope and flourishing in 2013.
In September, Colorado floods caused a landslide that cost John Pellouchoud his home. He has been a rescue worker his entire life, but needed rescuing this time. John was swept by a wall of water through his house and down a mountain, sure that he was not going to survive. He survived, but lost everything. His house was buried under mud.
Then the Mudslingers, a volunteer group dedicated to “helping whomever, whenever,” arrived. The Mudslingers are entirely self-organized and don’t ask any questions. They just show up to help. It might be curious that I use a disaster as an example of flourishing, but what is amazing is not that bad things happen. What is incredible is our ability to recover, rebound, and help others. That is the best sign of flourishing. Only in a society with massive capital accumulation and underlying virtue can people donate their time, and parts of their revenue, to help others.
The UN Development report came out in March, and it detailed how significantly the world is erasing abject poverty. In fact, poverty reduction in the developing world is exceeding expectations. A study by Oxford’s poverty and human development initiative reported similar findings. These studies suggest that acute poverty could be eliminated within the next 20 years, and the countries experiencing the best alleviation—Rwanda, Nepal and Bangladesh—could see deprivation eliminated within the lifetimes of living generations.
This is a sign of flourishing because rising income rates mean that individuals don’t have to spend as much of their precious, creative hours doing things like protecting their families from the ravages of civil war and genocide, as well as searching for food, clean water and vaccinations. This frees up their time to be creative, to use their gifts and skills to serve others, and to contribute to overall flourishing.
Incredibly, high school sophomore and fifteen-year-old Jack Andraka developed a paper test that could lead to earlier detection of pancreatic cancer. The test is still under development, but it would allow rapid and inexpensive detection of pancreatic cancer at earlier stages. This is a powerful example of flourishing not only because we could potentially have an inexpensive way to detect this deadly cancer much earlier and save lives. It’s remarkable because a fifteen-year old invented it. This young boy was able to use his creativity and genius in profound ways that will likely change the world. It is these types of innovations that allow us to live longer and healthier lives. When we can create them at a low cost, all income groups benefit, not just the rich and powerful.
This year, the oldest American, Jeralean Talley of Inkster, Michigan celebrated her 114th birthday. Amazingly, she isn’t the oldest person alive, but she is third behind two Japanese citizens. Even though only about one in five million people living in the US become super-centenarians, most of us across the globe are living longer than ever before. That’s due in large part to globalized markets, which bring us access to goods and services at ever cheaper prices and higher quality. The more economic freedom a country has, the longer they live. In the U.S., the current life expectancy is 79, compared to the mid-fifties in 1913.
This example is close to home. This is a picture of my daughter, Bailey Grace, who was born early. My family and I were expecting her around August 12th, but my water broke prematurely at 26 weeks. I was on hospital bed rest for five weeks until she was born at 32 weeks gestation. We were told that the odds of this happening without presenting any of the risk factors was 1%. If Bailey Grace had been born at 26 weeks, the odds of her having significant and life-threatening issues was astronomical. When she was born at 32 weeks, she lived entirely dependent on nurses, doctors, and life-saving machines that kept her temperature stable, monitored her heart rate, and set off alarms if she ever stopped breathing.
At that point in her life, the only thing we could do for our sweet daughter was to pray. We couldn’t feed her, clothe her, or even hold her. I can’t imagine what the outcome would have been had this happened to a woman living in the Congo, or even if this had happened earlier in this century to my grandmother. The result would have been tragic. They weren’t, though, because we have doctors who are specialists who study for years to know how to care for these babies so that they survive, and we have machines that are made available to us so that our babies thrive.
The cultural mandate calls us to use our gifts and creativity to bring a glimpse of hope to the world by contributing to flourishing. We won’t know full flourishing until we are reunited with Christ, but we are called to bring about as much of it as we humanly can in the meantime. It’s an amazing time to be alive, and as a Christian I take great hope in these examples of how God often calls unsuspecting people to do great things. He can use all of us to bring about flourishing not only for ourselves, but for the world.
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